Monday, November 15, 2010

Next Veteran's Day may have a different celebration

I'm a little late reporting this. Next Veteran's Day may have a really interesting and very moving way of honoring our veterans. There is growing support for the idea of following the lead of Israel in their celebration of their Memorial Day or Yom HaZikaron. and the Boston Globe reported that local doctor Peter Bendetson took his sons to Israel for a family vacation. There they witnessed how the Israelis took seriously the moment of silence, even to the point of stopping cars on the highway, and getting out. People on sidewalks, came to a halt.

Yom Hazikron is the day on which Israel honors its fallen servicemen and women. National memorial services are held in the presence of Israel's top leadership and military personnel. The day opens the preceding evening at 20:00 (8:00 pm), given that in the Hebrew calendar system days begin at sunset, with a siren. The siren is heard all over the country and lasts for one minute, during which Israelis stop everything (including driving, which stops highways) and stand in silence, commemorating the fallen and showing respect. Many national-religious Jews say prayers for the souls of the fallen soldiers at this time as well.
(from Wikipedia article, which includes a photo of people standing beside their cars) One thing the Wikipedia article points out is the universality of military service among the Israeli people, men as well as women. Unless a person is truly disabled (I assume this must be true in case of devastating disability), Israelis serve in either the military or a related service such as the Border Police Israel Police, Prison Service or Security Forces. Women may be exempted for religious or "nuptial" reasons -- the article says about one-third of women are exempted this way. The common experience and universality of the sacrifice, as well as the nearness of war in a very small nation may all contribute to the strong support for this major tribute.

By contrast, in our country, our last "universal" war was WWII, whose veterans are in their 80's or older. Since then, wars have been "police actions," that have been politically contested, protested, and bitterly resented by much of those portions of the populations conscripted to fight. At the end of the Viet Nam War period, President Nixon did away with the Selective Service conscription, and since then, the United States has had a "volunteer" military. That means a much smaller proportion of our population ever serves in the military. Those who were conscripted in more recent wars were often taken because they lacked social status, political juice, or money, interest or intellect to stay in college, or otherwise avoid active service. That is not to say that there have not been those who served from a sense of honor, pride or duty in this period, but the story has certainly been colored by the political whirlwinds of these times. Veterans have held very mixed meanings in America for a number of different people over the past few decades because of all the politics surrounding these struggles. Only since the last Gulf War and especially since 9/11, has patriotism seen a resurgence and veterans really found a wider sense of gratitude from more of the population of our country.

Even so, Veteran's Day often flows by with very little notice for many of us. There are Veteran's Day sales. Some of us have the day off, but we don't do much to mark it. Others do not have a holiday, and the work place does not do anything to mark it. Politicians, the active military and a few scout troops tend to be the only reliable groups marking the day from year to year. That's pretty sad if you think about it, especially in a time of war.

So, it's actually pretty cool that the sons of Dr. Bendetson said, why couldn't we do something like this in the U.S. for Veteran's Day? When they returned home, they started working on their idea. It helped that

1) Mark Bendetson got a summer internship in Republican Senator Scott Brown's office.

2) His friend got a similar internship in Democrat Senator Barney Frank's office.

Both politicians liked the idea very much.
The Bendetson brothers wrote to the White House and received an encouraging letter.

Bob Dole, the former senator from Kansas and a genuine war hero, sent encouragement from his hospital bed at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

Setti Warren, who besides being the mayor of Newton is a Navy reservist and Iraq war veteran, signed a proclamation saying his city would adopt the two-minute moment of silence.

Last week, after the balance of power shifted in the House of Representatives, the Bendetson brothers sent e-mails to the offices of the presumptive House speaker, John Boehner, and his chief whip, Eric Cantor. Their offices responded enthusiastically.

The Bendetsons are hoping a bill can be introduced with the next Congress.
(from the Boston Globe/ article by Kevin Cullen) I also thought that the media savvy with which this has been launched was pretty high. When I was searching for the (aging) story online, I stumbled on the fact that one of the two sons of Dr. Bendetson, Michael, is a blogger with Huffington Post. I might worry that I had the wrong Michael Bendetson, except that it includes a photo and the information that the young man has interned at the U.S. Senate and attends Tufts University. All of that together sews it up pretty tight. He just hasn't written up his idea for memorializing Veteran's Day, ... yet. It really is a very good idea. I hope the bill is introduced and sails through the Congress. I look forward to traffic stopping dead for five or ten minutes next Veteran's Day. I think our veterans deserve a bit more attention than we are giving them now.

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